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Child Abuse & Neglect Petitions

The neglect petition is a cause of action brought by DCF against a parent. The petition can come as part of an Order of Temporary Custody or it can be an action on its own. The petition is served on the parents by a state marshal and requires the parent to appear and “answer” the petition.

A neglect petition can allege various causes of action against a parent – that the child has been neglected, abused, or that the child has specialized needs which cannot be addressed by the family home. However, a neglect petition does not allege fault and therefore, the DCF does not need to prove “intent” to achieve a finding of neglect by a court.

Letter of the Law:

Connecticut General Statute 46b-120 provides the working definitions for the law surrounding a neglect petition:

“[a] child or youth may be found “neglected” who, for reasons other than being impoverished, (A) has been abandoned, (B) is being denied proper care and attention, physically, educationally, emotionally or morally, or (C) is being permitted to live under conditions, circumstances or associations injurious to the well-being of the child or youth”.

The important concept to take from this definition is that all sorts of conduct by a parent could potentially create a situation that could result in a judicial finding of neglect.

The 2 Questions Answered During a Neglect Trial

During a neglect trial, the court must determine two things: what happened (the “adjudicatory” phase) and what needs to be done to address what happened (the “dispositional” phase). The court usually hears all of the evidence at once, and then issues a ruling identifying which facts or evidence go to which parts of the trial.

A thorough understanding of the 2-part nature of a neglect proceeding is important for negations and settlement purposes. Attorneys with actual trial experience with neglect petitions tend to have an advantage in determining the strengths and weaknesses of a case.

Fair Preponderance

The legal standard for a neglect trial is proof by a fair preponderance that the child was neglected. Fair preponderance means DCF must show that it is more likely than not that what something is true. Often described as “51%,” this is the lowest evidentiary standard provided by the law and makes defending neglect petitions extremely difficult.

Furthermore, DCF misconduct is not a defense to a neglect petition, unless the misconduct is the complete fabrication of the facts and circumstances contained in the neglect petition.

Resolving the Neglect Petition

When DCF files a neglect petition with the court, they must also tell the court what they would like to do to resolve the petition.

Protective Supervision

A common way that DCF resolves a neglect petition is to request that the court impose a period of protective supervision on the parents and children. Protective supervision allows the child to remain in the parents’ home. However, they must agree to complete various programs which DCF feels will address whatever issue created the neglect petition. Protective supervision also allows the DCF to enter the family home and check on the status of the children and the condition of the home. Also, if a period of protective supervision is ordered, the court will impose specific steps – court orders that require the parents to cooperate with DCF, and that require DCF to comply with certain orders.

Commitment of the Child

The most drastic step that DCF can take to resolve a neglect petition is to seek commitment of the minor child. A commitment order essentially strips the parent(s) of legal guardianship of the child. This means that DCF places the child outside of the family home (in a foster/group home, with a relative, etc.) and the parents lose the ability to make basic decisions concerning the care and upbringing of their child. The commitment order remains in place until a further order of the court revokes the order. A parent can file a motion to revoke the commitment, but they must then show that the need for the commitment no longer exists.

The Bottom Line

This is only a brief overview of the neglect petition and the law supporting it. If you are currently facing a neglect case you need an experienced DCF attorney – contact The Law Offices of John J. Ghidini immediately »